Business rates holiday extended to all retailers during COVID-19 pandemic

As the Coronavirus pandemic escalates across the UK and the rest of the world, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has moved to provide financial aid to retailers of all shapes and sizes with emergency fiscal measures relating to business rates.

During Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Budget 2020 speech, he confirmed some retailers would be made exempt from paying a penny in business rates during the 2020/21 financial year.

This exemption was aimed at supporting the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors; particularly the smallest firms within retail units with a rateable value of below £51,000. These firms would also be made eligible for immediate cash grants up to £25,000, with a view to covering commercial rents during the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Less than ten days after Budget 2020, the Chancellor has been forced to act further still in a bid to underpin employers and save tens of thousands of jobs across the country.

Mr Sunak confirmed that the 12-month business rates holiday would be extended to all retailers, giving larger retailers a much-needed boost as well as small and independent retailers.

Local councils will be required to distribute revised business rates bills during the coming days to those who qualify for the exemption, confirming that no business rates will be payable from April onwards.

In addition, the UK government has also expanded various grants to eligible retailers for Small Business Rate Relief from £3,000 to £10,000.

The Chancellor has also provided a minimum of £330 billion to businesses big and small in the form of government-backed loans and guarantees, designed to help retailers and firms in other sectors to cover the cost of salaries, stock, rent and suppliers.

“This is not a time for ideology and orthodoxy, this is a time to be bold, a time for courage,” said Sunak.

“I want to reassure every British citizen this government will give you all the tools you need to get through this.

“That means any business who need access to cash to pay their rent, their salaries, suppliers or purchase stock will be able to access a government-backed loan or credit on attractive terms.

“And if demand is greater than the initial 330 billion I’m making available today, I will go further and provide as much capacity as required. I said whatever it takes, and I meant it.”

The government has also embarked upon an unprecedented step to cover the cost of many private-sector wages for employers. Mr Sunak revealed the government will pay 80% of staff wages for employees furloughed due to the pandemic, up to £2,500 a month.

The Chancellor described these measures as “unprecedented” in the nation’s history but are deemed necessary to ensure the UK economy can return to a semblance of normality once the peak of the pandemic has passed.

Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), labelled the intervention a “landmark” proposal from the government.

“It marks the start of the UK’s economic fightback – an unparalleled joint effort by enterprise and government to help our country emerge from this crisis with the minimum possible damage,” said Fairbairn.